Wild, Radical Faith

Yanni Gu could have attended a top-tier medical school. In fact, that was always the plan ever since she was a little girl growing up in China. The 2018 Timothy grad and the 2022 recipient of the Young Alumni Award, breezed through Johns Hopkins University with dual degrees in neuroscience and German. She not only graduated at the top of her class, but she did it in just three years.

Yanni, though, was never after worldly prestige, accolades, or even titles. Her goal of practicing medicine was simply a means to an end— a way for her to help others. Although Yanni grew up in an affluent city in China, she was deeply affected by the plight and lack of healthcare for most of China’s rural population. “There are only good doctors in major cities,” Yanni explained. “Doctors are overworked and people in the countryside can’t always access healthcare. I always wanted to change that and help build a system where people in the countryside had access to affordable, but also good healthcare.”

She started dreaming about one day joining Doctors Without Borders. “I wanted to help people,” she said, “so that led me to medicine.”

It also put her on a trajectory of studying in the United States and ultimately at Timothy Christian High School. “The best education system is in the United States,” she said, “I knew that I wanted to go to a US college. So to better prepare myself to do that, I decided to come here four years early, just to go through the high school system, get familiar with the language, take all the necessary classes, and get involved in the right activities to be a better candidate for colleges.”

Yanni spent her freshman year in a high school in California, but due to a change in her placement agency she was transferred to Chicagoland and ultimately Timothy Christian High School. “I wanted a small, private, Christian school,” Yanni explained. “So Timothy was a good fit for me.”

As soon as she arrived at Timothy, she wasted no time getting involved. “It was quite evident that Yanni was going to be a hard worker,” Ryan DeKoekkoek said, who was the head of the International Program when Yanni was a sophomore. “Yanni was very focused, and ready to get involved in anything she could. Whether it was playing the piano for orchestra, joining the cast for a musical, or playing tennis, Yanni wanted to be involved.”

But the thing that stood out to Mr. DeKoekkoek and her teachers was Yanni’s natural caring spirit, exuberant personality, and infectious smile. “Yanni brought joy and continues to bring joy to everyone she meets,” Mr. DeKoekkoek said. “It was quite evident that the Lord radiated from her heart.”

Coming to the United States and attending a high school where Christ was at the center of everything was not only freeing, but also polarizing to her childhood experience. Although Yanni’s family members are Christians, China is officially an atheist state and citizens are banned from attending non-state sanctioned churches. It is not uncommon for Christians to be persecuted or imprisoned. But God is at work! The underground church movement is thriving (and growing exponentially) in China. Christians meet to worship in homes, conference rooms in hotels, and even ballrooms.

“Timothy laid a solid foundation for me to manage the rigorous coursework at Johns Hopkins and to eventually graduate in three years with a major in Neuroscience and a minor in German.”

Yanni and her family are so deeply committed to their faith, they “street evangelize” as Yanni calls it. But in China street evangelizing — of any kind — is illegal and can have dire consequences. “My mom was taken to a local police station for questioning,” Yanni explained. “But they did let her go.”

Fear, though, doesn’t stop them from sharing the Good News. “My family and I are still experiencing insecurity and difficulties daily because of the unstable political environment in China and the US,” Yanni explained.  “But we don’t worry, doubt, or fear because we know from Job 19:25-26 that ‘my Protector lives, and at the end He will stand on this earth. My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God.’”

This wild, radical faith that Yanni experienced through her relationship with Jesus Christ was life changing!

Her time at Timothy only helped her faith grow. “Timothy laid a solid foundation for me to manage the rigorous coursework at Johns Hopkins and to eventually graduate in three years with a major in neuroscience and a minor in German,” Yanni says, “but the teachers help develop your faith.”

She graduated as the valedictorian and enrolled at Johns Hopkins University. And in typical Yanni fashion, she got involved in student organizations, research projects, clinical experience, and tutoring opportunities, and co-authored an article in a scientific publication. “I had the clear goal of becoming a physician in the future,” Yanni said. “However, just like everyone else, the pandemic put an abrupt halt on all my activities.”

Yanni spent half of her college career in her apartment under the stay-at-home orders. With only Zoom classes — and no other outside activities — Yanni dove into her coursework and her Bible. She also started to doubt her goal of entering medical school. “When I doubted my future, that was when God’s words became my strength,” Yanni said. “Faith is the most important thing in our lives, and it shapes our worldview, principles, actions, and of course, our future.”

Perhaps the hardest (and most important) lesson on faith is to rely on God even when it takes you on an unexpected journey. During the stay-at-home order Yanni kept coming back to Isaiah 55:9, which says: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Yanni knew the medical field was not the profession she was supposed to pursue.

“The lesson I learned through college and now as a working professional is to rely on Him in every step,” Yanni said.  “Not only should we pray for His will to be done, but our actions should also reflect that obedience. I struggled while switching my career goal due to worries of other people’s opinions and my own fixation on what my future should look like. But through reading His words and laying my old self down, I’m learning to humbly walk in His footsteps.”

Yanni started job hunting and came across a position in fundraising consulting. “I have always been interested in philanthropy and its positive impacts,” she says.  “Even when I was striving to become a doctor, my aim was to eventually assist non-profits in providing accessible and basic healthcare worldwide. Combining my existing interest with the dynamic consulting work style, I immediately connected with the recruiters to discuss the position in more detail. And after that, everything came together instantaneously and effortlessly. I knew then that this was the next place where God wanted me.”

Although Yanni is based out of Denver, Colorado, she has temporarily moved to Los Angeles, California, for her current project. “Our work is a very niche field, but I personally find it very exhilarating,” she says.  “We help non-profit organizations prepare and then raise money for a specific campaign with an ambitious goal. We have a variety of client sectors, including religious, healthcare, social services, arts, and education. I enjoy my daily work of guiding my clients to make a true impact in their communities and beyond.”

And truly that is all Yanni has ever wanted — for her work to glorify God!

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